Let's Rush To Judgment

Let's Rush To Judgment: 'Looper'

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt's in the midst of a hot streak. Actually, by anyone's count, he's been in one for a while, but now it looks like he's officially expanding the JGL oeuvre of quirky comedies and indie dramas to make room for JGL, Action Star.

This year, a couple years after his action acrobatics in Inception, Gordon-Levitt will appear as a cop in The Dark Knight Rises in July and star in August in Premium Rush as a bike messenger pursued across Manhattan by a dirty cop.

Then, in September, there's Looper.

I unabashedly love everything about this trailer (the near-future premise, the off-kilter visual style, JGL in Bruce Willis face), and that sort of enthusiasm for a teaser usually demands some skepticism. After all, an editor can always scrape together a minute and a half of footage from a mediocre film and make it look like the second cinematic coming.

This is a case where execution has to trump ideas. If the same concept — an assassin working in the present for a mob in the future must hunt down and kill his future self – had come from the Hollywood studio system, the results might be middling. But the reason I have full confidence in this movie – after only a teaser trailer – is its writer-director, Rian Johnson.

Breaking Bad fans might recognize Johnson's name from the director credit on "Fly," one of the series' best episodes, but as a writer directing his own material, Johnson has a short but impressive history of playing with genre and audience expectations in a way that yields interesting results. The Brothers Bloom (2008), Johnson's layered take on the heist film, took the popular plots-within-plots trope to the next level while keeping character first. And his first film Brick (2005), which starred Gordon-Levitt in one of his first adult roles, transplanted a film noire plotline and its gritty antihero to high school. It could have been a tonal mess, but Johnson's script included enough of both cinematic worlds to make the generic combination seem not only convincing but inevitable.

Time travel movies are naturally dicey. In the wrong directorial hands, they can be incoherent, silly, and all kinds of Butterfly Effect bad. Can that be the case here? Already I'm asking questions of Looper's premise—does the fact that future JGL-Willis even exists mean he can't go back and kill his earlier self? Or does the movie consider the timeline fixed, so that if present JGL-Willis kills future JGL-Willis, he's sealing his own fate and just buying time? Now would be a good time for a Jeff Daniels wisecrack.

But because this is Rian Johnson, and because Gordon-Levitt says it's his favorite thing he's done yet (surprisingly not Angels In The Outfield), I'm choosing not to poke holes — and instead believe that in hands of this actor and this director, those questions will be central to what the movie's about and as exciting to think about as Gordon-Levitt's new green eyes are dreamy. (And they're pretty darn dreamy).

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